From Dayton Daily News…
Kasich appears ready for a confrontation with unions
By William Hershey, Staff Writer
COLUMBUS — It’s been more than 50 years since a Republican governor declared war on organized labor in Ohio.
Gov.-elect John Kasich hasn’t made such a declaration, but Kasich seems determined to abandon the get-along, go-along approach that the last three Republican governors — Jim Rhodes, George Voinovich and Bob Taft — took with unions.
Already, Kasich has talked of ending the requirement that union-scale wages be paid on public construction projects and of eliminating binding arbitration in police and firefighter contract disputes.
Safety forces aren’t permitted to strike in Ohio, but when disagreement persists, an outside arbitrator is called in to settle things and the decision prevails, no matter the cost.
“If they want to strike, they should be fired,” Kasich said earlier this month. “Look, you can have a change in the law that says — again, these decisions are not finally made — but there are ways to say that ‘you’re not going to strike and we’re going to continue negotiations without a binding arbitrator.’ ”
Much has changed since 1958 when Ohio voters trounced — 63-37 percent — a right-to-work issue backed by O’Neill, other Republicans and their friends at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
The 1958 issue would have banned the adoption of labor agreements that made union membership a condition of employment. This exercise in political overreach crippled the state GOP and made the Ohio AFL-CIO a force to reckon with in Ohio politics.
That was then. This is now.
In 1958, about one in three Ohio workers belonged to a union. Most union members worked for private companies. They made cars, forged steel and rolled out tires.
In 2009, just 14 percent of Ohio workers overall belonged to unions. Not a lot of them made cars or worked in steel mills, a result of the exodus of manufacturing jobs.
Just 8.9 percent of private sector workers had union cards.
The clout that unions have these days is in the public employee unions representing safety forces, teachers and government workers at the state and local levels.
Forty-four percent of public sector workers belonged to unions in 2009, a result of the 1983 collective bargaining law signed by Democratic Gov. Dick Celeste after it passed the legislature with only Democratic support.
At a time of continuing high unemployment and a very pokey economic recovery, it’s not clear that voters these days have lots of sympathy for cops, firefighters, teachers and other public employees with decent jobs, benefits and pensions, all paid for by taxpayers.
“Given the recent skepticism about government in Ohio, there may be more sympathy for an overhaul of collective bargaining for public employees, including binding arbitration for safety forces,” political scientist John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, said in an e-mail.
Kasich has said that he wants unions and union workers to join with him in turning around Ohio’s economy and doesn’t want to replay the 1958 right-to-work battle.
“They’ve got a lot at stake in this, too,” Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman, said of unions. “We’re all in this together. That’s his (Kasich’s) message.”
Whatever changes Kasich proposes are likely to sail through the legislature, with both the House and Senate controlled by his fellow Republicans.
It’s the political opposite of 1983 when Democrats controlled the House and Senate and Celeste was governor.
Joe Rugola, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, the labor federation that includes most Ohio unions, sounds like a man gearing up for a fight. Rugola also is executive director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, the first labor leader from a public employee union to head the state AFL-CIO.
“One thing we continue to drive home to our base is that since the right-to-work initiative in Ohio, no governor has been committed to what we believe is Kasich’s primary agenda, the same as the national Republican party, creation of a permanent low wage, no benefit, no pension economy,” Rugola said.
Caution is not Kasich’s style. Still, he was elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, 49-47 percent over Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland, hardly a mandate.
“Overreaching is always a danger when it comes to employment issues,” said political scientist Green. “Public sympathy for change could be reversed if there is a perception that public employees are being treated unfairly.”